The novelist Aharon Applefeld, raised in an assimilated European Jewish bubble the Nazis ruptured when he was eight, once wrote: “Hidden processes of self-abnegation triggered bouts of self-hatred long before the Shoah. This personal bloodletting first took place within the Jewish intelligentsia. But, as the march continued, along came Satan’s black magic and returned you to the fundamentals of tribal existence, and compelled you to live your life not as an individual and not by following your muse but as a member of the Jewish people.... Satan’s hand... brings you precisely to the place you tried to flee.”
This Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Applefeld’s insights help explain the fury of our Jewish “Mad C.o.Ws,” aspiring Citizens of the World, Jews who prove their loyalty to humanity by denouncing Israel vehemently, enabling the new anti-Semitism. Theirs is not the usual criticism of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or the settlements – which is increasingly mainstreamed in Jewish discourse. This is the novelist Michael Chabon labeling the West Bank mess “the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.” Really? This is Bernie Sanders’ suspended Jewish outreach coordinator being called “the best of the best,” when she dismisses Israel’s right to self-defense against Gazan rockets and crudely curses Netanyahu (and Hillary Clinton). This is 11 Jewish Harvard law students defending a Palestinian who called MK Tzipi Livni “smelly,” claiming the Palestinian’s critics, including the law school’s dean, are “discrediting and defaming those who dare challenge Israel’s abuses against Palestinians.” This is Bernie Sanders, when asked about how “the Zionist Jews... run the Federal Reserve...
Wall Street,” blandly chiding the questioner but quickly adding, “I also believe that we have got to pay attention to the needs of the Palestinian people” – apparently just denouncing anti-Semitism risks progressive votes. This is Jewish radicals singling out the only Jewish state and the Middle East’s only democracy for boycotting and demonizing.
There’s a fury, an irrationality and yes, a disloyalty to your own people that demands explanation, especially amid today’s obsessive, irrational, global attack against Israel and Jews (note the British Labour Party crisis).
Since the Enlightenment, waves of universalist C.o.Ws have madly sought to blend into the world as humans, becoming furious when they stuck out as Jews. According to the theologian Yitz Greenberg, the traumatic weeks before the Six Day War, when Arab cries to destroy Israel threatened Jews worldwide, again confirmed “the traditional view that Jews are chosen – that is, that they are a singled out people.”
This Reluctant Chosenness, particularity enforced on cosmopolitan wannabes, infuriates. But rather than resenting the Jew haters, they turn their teenage rage at being outed as Jews toward Israel. Ignoring millennia of anti-Semitism, they decree that if only Israel behaved well, Jews would be accepted.
Then, when Israel, as an ordinary democracy facing extraordinary pressures, disappoints, the Mad C.o.W’s disappointment is disproportionate, hysterical, distancing, to avoid their purity being sullied by any connection to their inferior fellow tribesmen and women. Rather than exercising the extra discretion loyalty demands, these Mad C.oWs attack their own, showing they are “the Good Jews,” er, Citizens of the World.
The Israeli literary critic Gershon Shaked diagnosed a parallel phenomenon, the “ambivalent detachment” of the bourgeois Holocaust refugees who found refuge in Israel but so missed the cultured Europe that slaughtered their families they detested their new home. The Vienna-born Shaked warned that “whoever looks back, like Lot’s wife, assures that his soul will never arrive in the promised land.... [T]o the extent that identity depends on consciousness...a person has no choice but to decide.”
When this Jewish “Uncle Tomism,” shuffling before the oppressors in a futile attempt to satisfy, mixes with Palestinian anti-Semitism, poof: Israel causes “the most grievous injustice.” The Palestinians remain blameless. Any insult against Israel or Israel’s defenders is justified. Instead of fighting anti-Semitism, they echo it.
Then, in an expression of anti-Zionist imperialism, Jewish organizations start hosting Israel bashers. If the Columbia and Brown Hillels host Breaking the Silence, what’s left for the Palestinians? Why must Mad C.o.W Jews steal from Palestinians the privilege of mounting anti-Israel hatefests? What’s wrong with us? Do gay groups host homophobes? Do feminists host sexists? Does BlackLivesMatter listen to racists who say “actually, they don’t?” Because the behavior of these Jewish enablers of Jew hatred is so hateful to their fellow Jews, the Jewish contempt for these critics makes them feel courageous. But bashing Israel among progressives is about as bold as recycling newspapers; it’s the bovine bravery of cows trailing their herd.
Unfortunately, amid so much Jew hatred, too many Jews internalize the anti-Jewish hysteria. The reaction to Jewish Mad C.o.Ws is Jewish Turtles, withdrawing into shells, wallowing in anger. Instead, we need happy, healthy, constructive Jewish Hummingbirds and Zionist Doves, motivated by love not resentment.
On Yom Hashoah, we should remember enough not to forget but not so much as to forget everything else. If Judaism becomes about not letting Hitler or his successors win, Hitler wins. A positive Jewish and Zionist identity must transcend the Reluctant Chosenness the world imposes. As modern Jews by Choice we should delight in our opportunity, as free people, to embrace our heritage and homeland as guideposts helping us navigate yesterday and today, tradition’s mysteries and modernity’s marvels.
We, the happily chosen people, must compartmentalize.
We must fight this new ugly impulse, as what Professor Robert Wistrich called the Longest Hatred has become today’s Trendiest Hatred. We must challenge the Mad C.o.Ws for their hysteria and disloyalty. But we cannot become Turtle Jews squelching constructive critics, being addicted to anger, making Judaism and Zionism a burden.
Even on Yom Hashoah, we should feel blessed – and ready to fix whatever needs fixing.
The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. His next book will update Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea. He is a professor of History at McGill University.
Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.